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Baker to Reassure Japan Over Scandals

Times Staff Writer

Secretary of State James A. Baker III, en route to Tokyo for meetings with embattled Prime Minister Sosuke Uno, said Monday that he will reassure Japan that the sex and bribery scandals that have engulfed the government will not damage U.S.-Japan cooperation.

Talking to reporters on the flight from Washington, Baker said the U.S.-Japan relationship “is strong . . . durable . . . and very, very important, not just to the Pacific but to the world as a whole.”

“It is important that we continue to pay attention to that relationship,” he said. He termed it a “global partnership” between the world’s two largest national economies.

Baker insisted he would ignore the scandals when he meets Uno over dinner tonight because he and other Administration officials are determined to “avoid involving ourselves in the internal politics of the government of Japan.”

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A senior U.S. official traveling with Baker said later that “we will deal with the government as it is presented to us.”

Public Reassurance

Nevertheless, Baker’s attitude seems sure to strengthen Uno’s hand by reassuring the Japanese public that the prime minister’s problems will not bring international humiliation.

Uno, who was named prime minister in May because he seemed to be free of taint from the Recruit Co. influence-peddling scandal that has convulsed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was shaken almost at once by reports that he had paid a geisha to be his mistress. Most observers believe his unpopularity has contributed to LDP losses in two local elections, the most recent on Sunday in metropolitan Tokyo.

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In addition to confering with Uno, Baker plans to participate in a conference of rich nations called to plan a $10-billion, five-year program of economic aid for the Philippines. The Bush Administration has requested $200 million as Washington’s first-year share, although State Department officials admit that the figure may be cut by Congress, perhaps by as much as $50 million.

From Tokyo, Baker will go to Brunei for a meeting of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations that is expected to be dominated by talk about the future of Cambodia. Vietnam, which invaded Cambodia in 1978 and toppled the Khmer Rouge government, has promised to withdraw its troops by Sept. 30, leaving the government of Premier Hun Sen vulnerable to the rebel coalition that has been fighting it.

Support for Coalition

The United States and the six-nation ASEAN bloc agree that Cambodian parties should form an interim coalition government to conduct elections for a new regime. They also agree that the murderous Khmer Rouge, blamed for the killing of more than 1 million Cambodians when it ruled the nation in the 1970s, should not be allowed to return to total power. But there are growing disagreements within ASEAN and between the association and the United States on the best way to achieve those objectives.

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In his airborne press conference, Baker said Washington believes that “it would be preferable” if the Khmer Rouge could be excluded from the interim government. But he said that may be impossible because the brutal Communist faction “represents a very strong force.”

He said Prince Norodom Sihanouk, leader of the non-Communist faction that enjoys the greatest U.S. support, has said that he would rather have the Khmer Rouge represented in the coalition than to risk civil war by leaving it out.

For the past year, the United States and the ASEAN nations have counted on China to restrain the Khmer Rouge. The Beijing government has said it does not want the faction to again dominate Cambodia. China, which has provided the Khmer Rouge with an estimated $80 million worth of weapons annually, is thought to be the only power able to control the faction.

Unchanged Policy

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A senior U.S. official traveling with Baker said it is not yet clear whether the new Chinese leadership is willing or able to continue to rein in the Khmer Rouge.

But Baker said there has been no change in U.S. policy toward Cambodia as a result of the Chinese upheaval.

“We have no reason to suspect that their (China’s) position is different than it was before the events of June 3-4,” he said, referring to the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators last month in Beijing.

Although all six ASEAN states support U.S. humanitarian aid to the non-Communist factions headed by Sihanouk and former Premier Son Sann, there is some disagreement about whether Washington should supply weapons to the non-Communist resistance groups.

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